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I won’t claim that I completely scoured the exhibit floor at CTIA over the past two days, but in my relatively pointed search there seemed to be a remarkable absence of vendors hawking app discovery tools/engines. I think the lack of these tools is a BIG problem.ABI Research will publish our latest report on Mobile Application Storefronts next week.In it, I discuss in detail the fly in the ointment for unchecked growth of the mobile app juggernaut – discoverability.

As inventory in app stores grow, the challenge of discoverability becomes a problem for both app developer and consumers.App developers have no way to differentiate, and consumers don’t know what to look for.Sure, there are top ten lists and categories within the app stores.There are online websites dedicated to reviews.There are a couple of apps in iTunes – RAVE! and Chorus -- that will connect you to your social network for recommendations (both of which I found to be cumbersome).But really, none of these tools works very well.The mobile app is peculiar in the sense that by and large, consumers have no idea what they want in the form of apps, and the analogy I like to use would be this – You are hungry, so you decide to go to the grocery store and walk down every aisle looking at each shelf until you find all the food you want today.Nobody does that, and you wouldn’t expect app discoverability to work the same way either.

Truly what’s needed for mobile apps to survive and thrive in the long run are recommendation engines, like we see from hmmm… Apple (Genius) or Amazon.I would think that might be a challenge though.What do you do for newbies?Or how do you predict future behavior on past actions, particularly for something so broad as software?I will give you an example.On my iPhone, here are some of the apps I have – Shazam, ESPN Score Center, Mint, Grocery List, Southwest Airlines, a Guitar Tuner, PayPal.What do I want next?How the hell should I know?Oh, and as I side note, CTIA created an app for the show, and it was totally useless.

I will tell you this – most of what I personally use in terms of apps are brand extensions – apps that I knew of because they are promoted OUTSIDE of the app store.I think this trend will grow and eventually dominate app discoverability.

Yet, there may be hope.Yesterday, I spoke with OpenMarket, the venerable premium content aggregator.I found that OpenMarket does have an interesting recommendation engine – one that becomes a potential leverage point for MNOs.Openmarket’s engine taps into demographic and data usage pattern data, particularly web traffic patterns, on individual subscribers to develop app recommendations.That is very interesting.There may be some challenges to the idea – MNOs would need to obtain opt-in permission from each subscriber, but the precedent for opt-in is there.This could become a potential competitive edge for MNO app stores, or, it would be interesting if MNOs would seek to peddle that data to platform app stores.

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